Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Evergreens in a Snowstorm

Evergreens in a Snowstorm

I have been shooting in snowstorms lately. Why? Call me crazy, but I love the magic of falling snow. Especially the first snow, when you can still see the shape of branches and leaves, and when New England mud hasn't appeared yet.

I know, there are those of you out there who would rather roast chestnuts over an open fire. But I love being outdoors and winter is my favorite season, so I just can't wait to get out in the snow.

It's a challenge. You need to stay dry and warm, because a miserable photographer makes miserable images. So I wear waterproof boots, pants and jacket and a hat with a brim to keep comfy.

How about the effects of weather on the camera? KEEP IT DRY! I carry mine in a plastic bag and try not to work in rain. Rain is wet, and wet is bad for electronics. But as long as the temp is below 32*, the snowflakes don't melt and get my camera wet. So if the temp is low, I just brush the flakes away occasionally.

But shooting snowstorms is still tricky. Heavy clouds reduce the available light. When it's dark, you need to take a long exposure, or reduce depth of field, or raise the ISO to get enough light on your sensor.  Or all three.

In a long exposure, falling snow just looks like weird white streaks. You need a quick exposure, about 1/250 second. But at that speed, you have no depth of field. So I found a subject that didn't require much depth. Then I raised my ISO to 1600 (because sensor noise doesn't show in a snowstorm).

All set, right?  Not quite. Depth of field affects snowflakes as well as trees. Even though the trees look ok, the foreground snowflakes are big white blurry blobs!

Here's an original, with blurry blobs of snow

Then I took 3-5 shots of each composition, all exposed exactly the same. When I got home, I took the best 2 and loaded them into Photoshop as layers. Then it was easy to erase the blobs from the top layer and reveal the detail from the layer below, because the blobs were in different places in the layers.

The picture at the top is not perfect, but at least I have a way to practice and improve this technique and share this beautiful season. I hope you enjoy the snow - it seems like we're getting a lot of it!

You can see more of my work at my Fine Arts America galleries.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Color of Light

As photographers, we spend a lot of time correcting the color of light. We, or our publishers, remove the blue cast from snow and the orange color of indoor lighting, trying to make everything look as if it were shot at noon on a sunny day. We fiddle with white balance to minimize the variation. We measure the color of light in Kelvins and call it color temperature.

As a visual artist, my reaction to this is: YUK!!!  What a loss!

Light changes color in nature. A bright, cloudy sky gives white light. A dark cloudy sky gives light that looks blue. The first beams of sunrise give light that is red or magenta, known as alpenglow. Light filtered through or reflecting from abundant foliage is green, and tints the fog in rural areas. And if the sky is neon at sunrise or sunset, those hues are reflected on earth. And we love to see the warm beam of a lighthouse contrasting with an evening sky.

In man-made environments, lightbulbs also vary. Our homes used to have the warm glow of tungsten light bulbs. Newer indoor lighting ranges from the white of halogen to the various shades of compact fluorescent light bulbs at the hardware store. Those of us who are sensitive to the color of light will notice the difference in mismatched bulbs and the change of color from room to room. 

Outdoors, the light in streets and parks varies widely. Mercury vapor bulbs give an orange light, and metal halide bulbs glow green. They are often mixed in one place, making color correction impossible.

My question is, why do we insist on "correcting" color temperature?  I looked out my window this morning and saw the scene above - a park with airport hangers in the background. The snowfield was blue with green circles. Snowbanks in the parking lots were orange. The sky was showing stripes of magenta, purple, and turquoise. There was nothing correct about it, and no way to fix it. Traditional photographers might publish it in black and white. I fell in love with the riot of color, and present it here to you. Enjoy!

And check out +Benjamin Williamson  for a real stunner!

There's information on color temperature on Wikipedia.  

Here's the same photo, converted to black and white.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Focus Point

I posted an image on Facebook that I liked, but there was just something missing. Asked Stoney Stone for recommendations that started a short journey of enlightenment.

Here's the original picture:

Stoney recommended cropping the picture to a square because the drooping branches on the right are distracting. Ok, done. But now I think that the gap on the left is distracting!

Time for another crop. Distractions gone, and I really like the delicate curve on the left. But I don't like the vertical format, and the straight browse lines of the leaves do nothing for me where they are.

Another crop, another option. The pretty curve is still there, but the amount of cropping has revealed that the curved branch is not in sharp focus, and it's quite bright. I darkened that edge to subdue it. I also saturated the blue. There are some features I like a lot, and some I'd like to improve upon. For instance, those blue ripples need something stronger in the top-left to balance them.

So now I wish I had shot it right in the first place, paying attention to depth of field and composing it to include only the important part of what I was seeing. I was being lazy and taking a snapshot instead of being a perfectionist on every single photo. Taking snapshots is fine, but you can't turn them into masterpieces when you get home.

Lesson learned? No matter how many years I have done this, focusing in on the real subject and eliminating the distractions is the hardest thing to remember. It doesn't come naturally to me. But when I see the pictures on my monitor, without all the distractions of being there, I sometimes wonder, "what was I thinking!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The first Wildflower of Spring

I had a tough weekend. Saturday, I went to Concord to shoot the re-enactment of the first battle of the revolutionary war at the Minuteman National Historical Park. I was there at 11:00, but no action. Then I checked my printout and found that it was scheduled for 1:00, not 11. So I went over to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Pretty bleak. There was a nesting redwing and a swan cruising around, but most of the movement was human.

Back to the battle site, but still no action. A ranger said they had had to cancel the re-enactment because of the possible government shutdown. Humbug!  My next stop was the Belmont Audubon center, but again things were looking bleak. Only April 9, after all.

Next I went to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. This sounds like a lot of jumping around, but it's all on the way home. The trees are still bare, and I didn't see one magnolia or forsythia in bloom.  But the early bulbs were out, so I played with Siberian skrill and Glory of the Snow - two blue beauties that have flowers less than an inch wide and stay low to the ground. I had bought a couple of extension tubes for doing macro photography with my regular lenses, and wanted to get to know them. So I crawled around for an hour and refreshed my macro skills.
Siberian Skrill (2) <- - - - - at Mount Auburn - - - - - -> Snow Glories

Unknown funghi
Sunday, I drove up to Nottingham, NH to find Hepatica. Wow, am I rusty! I got to the park, found the trail, and started walking. Then I realized that I didn't have a trail map, didn't have a wildflower book, and didn't have a clue. I followed the trail across a brook and up a small hill, realizing that I had no idea how or where these things grew. As I left, I saw two SUVs with young guys who looked like they knew what they were doing. Except that one of the cars had two surfboards on it. At least my car wasn't in their way. This time, I drove straight home and shut the door behind me.

Monday morning it was rainy out, chilly and raw. I rode my bike, cleaned the house, and did some office work. The clouds started to clear and the air turned steamy. After Sunday's wildflower bust, I did some research and found a place closer to home that sounded promising - Middlesex Fells. The plan was to get a map, talk to a naturalist, and get oriented. Maybe a little conditioning walk.

The visitors center was wide open, but no one was there. Not looking good. I found a little map and headed toward the Virginia Woods parking lot. Passed it once, passed it twice, passed it a third time. (Note to self: Get a dementia test before you forget!) Finally,  I headed off on the trail, knowing that I still didn't know where I was going, but in a more exploratory mood.

Spring wildflowers bloom before the trees leaf out and block their light. That eliminated the hemlock forest, no light there. Down to the left were oaks and beeches, and not a leaf in sight. As I wandered down the hill, I found a brook with stone bridges and two waterfalls. Later, a small gorge. As the trail circled around a small hill, I saw a flash of white. I turned to look, but it was gone. I should have moved on, but something said to follow my instinct. A few short steps. And there, in the dry duff, there were dozens of little white flowers.
Bloodroot (3)
Bloodroot! Their leaves wrap around them like a little blanket. And they start popping out while they're still under the leaves on the forest floor. So delicate, so beautiful.

As the little plants come out, they put up leaves. It's like a teaser of what's coming.  I try to figure out what kind of leaves they are: Trout lilies. wild geraniums. wood violets. Spring is here, with lots more to come. Things are looking up!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In Praise of Point-an-Shoot Cameras

There's a new camera in the family, a Canon SX30IS. It's a beauty. I got it for Gary before he took a trip to Texas where he would be seeing spring flowers in an arboretum and migrating shorebirds at an NWR. Gary loves wildlife and has been carrying a big DSLR with a huge 500mm lens in a backpack for quite some time. I decided to upgrade his equipment. He took the SX30 to Texas and when he returned, he gathered up all the old hand-me-down equipment I had loaned him over the years and returned it to me. So I guess the gift was a hit.
We went together to photograph the full moonset at Nubble Light. I climbed down the rocks for foreground. He stayed on the hill and shot the lighthouse at his level. We wandered around until sunset, shooting whatever we saw. Some guy was playing bagpipes, and I listened as I concentrated on the moonlight. After dark, he drove home and we chatted. It was a nice evening together.

The next morning, I loaded my photos onto my computer. I was pretty happy with them, although they were somewhat homogeneous. I had crawled around on the rocks a lot so I was emotionally invested in that wide view with lots of foreground. The colors were pretty, and I had gotten some images of the Nubble that were a bit different from the norm.

I think I looked at his pictures out of politeness, expecting to tell him that I liked his new camera. You know, photo-snob. But HOLY COW, he got some really great stuff. His compositions were impeccable, as always. The lighting was great, color was fine, and he got what I didn't: close-ups of the lighthouse tower and the moon. His shots were the perfect complement to mine - a product of our different vision, not camera capability.

He even got the bagpiper! I was in la-la land, I guess. But including this detail makes the photo essay in my mind much more interesting.

Oh, I knew I should have zoomed in, but my telephoto lens is heavy, and my mobility is  poor on wet, rocky cliffs, so I just left it behind.  Gary got the shots. I loaded his images into Lightroom and made sure to put his name in the copyright field, knowing I wouldn't be able to tell the difference later. Our sense of composition is very similar, as you can see, and the camera makes the technical issues non-existent.

I've always thought of compact cameras as toys. Great to take downtown, when I'm in a street-shooting mood. Ok for flowers where I want to get unusual angles. Fine to slip in a small bag for a wedding reception. But for serious shooting, for publication in calendars and magazines, I always use my DSLR. Now I'm not so sure. The newer cameras have all the features - and more - that my DSLR has. For under $200, you can now get a camera with exposure compensation, bracketing, HDR, macro focusing, various shooting modes - all kinds of goodies. True, the SX30 cost almost $400, but that gave us the zoom capability to replace that 500mm monster for wildlife shots.

One difference became apparent in the post-processing. Because the SX30 produces only JPG files, it has much less to work with than a camera that produces RAW files.  It's not filesize, the SX30 produces a 10 megapixel file. But the jpg format just doesn't have the detail that raw files have. 

Nevertheless, I got it to look sort of bright and dreamy, like my own shots of that moonrise. I wouldn't usually do this to his stuff, but I wanted to really explore whether this camera could produce images I would use for calendars.

I think the answer is yes. Even in automatic mode, today's compact cameras produce amazing pictures. The current generation of point-and-shoot cameras have more features than DSLRs that cost thousands of dollars. They're lighter, more flexible, and small enough to be with you always.

I'm not going to throw away my EOS. I know it inside-out. I can operate it in the dark with my eyes closed. I love my EOS.

But I may need to learn how to use all those buttons on my compact after all.

Good Morning, Spring!

This is the first morning we three watched the sunrise on the deck. The air is rich with the babble of songbirds, once a monotone of chickadees but now a full symphony to spring.

I had intended to photograph the Arnold Arboretum this morning. Last night's visions of bare branches rising ghostly from the spring fog gave way to visions of sugarplums during a night with many wakings. So when Maya the cat marched around on my pillow at 5:00, I barely stopped snoring long enough to tell her, "More night-night".

By 6:00, it was too late for ghostly fog, so we (I) brought two heated kitty beds outside with my coffee and enjoyed the music. The sun rose orange in a peach-and-aqua sky.

It's such a luxury just watching the dawn without shooting it. Almost immediately, someone turned off the symphony. Sun's up. Time to get to work. 

But first, here's a photo from yesterday's sunrise rainbow. A breathtaking sight that had me running for a good position. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The End of Winter

Winter is over. It paid us a farewell visit yesterday, on April Fool's day, but this morning my backyard park is full of kids playing soccer and the trees are busy pushing out buds again. Soon I'll be searching for hepatica and arbutus at the wildflower garden. But right now, I'm wondering where winter went and why I don't feel like I got enough photos.
Christmas in Boston
I spent most of December in Boston, doing winter and Christmas shots. There were a few more shots I wanted to get, but I saved them for days when I couldn't get out of town.  December always seems to get eaten up by the holidays, but it's not really winter anyway, right? Oh well, next year.

In January, I took some short trips. I spent a few hours on the Cape, but the fresh snow melted so I went home before noon. I spent a day on the North Shore (of MA) and did a quick day-trip to Vermont, but mostly I went to Maine and vegged out.

Pemaquid Sunset

Then I spent three weeks mostly in Maine. I did get some shots I've wanted for ages - Acadia National Park, Pemaquid and Nubble Lighthouses at sunset, Camden at sunrise, and a trip to the Rangeley area. So I guess I can check off Maine.

In late February, I took another quickie trip to Vermont. Are you kidding? A quick trip from Boston to Vermont? Sure, I CAN do it, but why? Woodstock by sunrise, drive around frenetically looking for tripod holes, home in time to feed the starving feline crowd and crash. Really need to stop doing impossible day-trips (no, I didn't stop - read March)

St Paddys Day parade in CT
Then came March. Catch-up time. I spent several days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and got some lovely mountain pix.  Suddenly it was mid-March and I realized that winter was ending! So of course, I went crazy and tried to cover all of New England in a week.

Spring lambs in RI
  • 3/12: Hartford CT Saint Paddy's Day parade. Essex, CT River eagle fest (no eagles left, of course)
  • 3/13: Lincoln, MA - Drumlin Farm for maple sap and baby farm animals, and Great Meadows NWR for ???? - Well, just because I was there.
  • 3/14: Bristol, RI - Blithewold for crocuses, Colt SP for spring lambs. Winter ducks at Sachuest Pt. Planned to go to the Roger Williams zoo, but rained out.
  • 3/15: Vermont - Woodstock, Killington, Rt 7 along the Green Mtns, Williston, Waterbury. I bagged all 5 mountains over 5000 ft. See it here
  • 3/16: Boston: the Flower Show. See it here
  • Supermoon at Scituate LH
  • 3/17: Mason, NH: Parker's Maple Barn. Did a photo essay on maple sugaring. See it here
  • 3/18: York, Maine - shot the sunset/moonrise at Nubble Light.
  • 3/19: Scituate, MA - shot the full SUPERMOON at Scituate Light.
  • 3/20: Crashed, burned, and hardly moved for a week. Sure, there were a couple of beach sunrises and some birds, but nothing big.
  • 3/27: Maine Maple Sunday! See it here.

    So here it is, April already. I ride a stationary bike most mornings, and today I spent my ride studying the normal bloom times of wildflowers. Believe it or not, the wildflowers are scheduled to start within a week. I wonder if they know? Certainly the Vermont wildflowers have no idea, but maybe you'll find me somewhere in Massachusetts, crawling around in the woods, trying to get that quintessential shot of a Spring Beauty soon.

    Spring beauty